By John Burton
RED BANK – The antique business has long been a draw for the west side of the borough, rivaling such locations as Lambertville and New Egypt, attracting shoppers from far and wide, who are searching for that certain, special something.
The area for years has been known as the Arts and Antique District. But with a sluggish economy, increased competition from surrounding towns and the forced relocation of a number of dealers with the pending demolition of their building, those selling the collectibles are trying to continue to find their place.
“Antiques go up and down,” said Carla Gizzi, who owns a shop at 169 West Front St. The key to succeeding is “people have to keep up with the trends.”
Gizzi has been operating her shop, Carla Gizzi Jewelry and Home, for 20 years and has another shop in Convention Hall, Asbury Park, an area that is increasingly giving Red Bank a run for its money in antiquing.
Tastes change over time, dealers have to be aware of what buyers want and meet those requests if they wish to remain viable, Gizzi said. Current tastes are for items dating from the mid-20th century, what she called the “industrial style,” popular for people decorating their homes. “You got to be motivated to keep up with the trends,” she said.
There are other factors related to her business, however, that are out of her hands. Gizzi said foot traffic on the western portion of West Front Street doesn’t have the volume that it does downtown on Broad Street. “If this block could only attract more people some way,” Gizzi said, that could help the district.
Her Asbury Park location gets considerably more pedestrian traffic making it a successful spot. “It’s fabulous,” she said. “I’d love to see Red Bank have that again.”
In addition, the overall economy has been putting a crimp in people’s disposable income. “Everybody had been feeling that,” she said.
John Gribbin operated Monmouth Antique Shoppes on the corner of West Front Street and Bridge Avenue for 29 years. When the building was shut down to be demolished to make way for the West Side Lofts development, he and others had to leave. Instead of relocating in Red Bank, Gribbin packed up and moved to Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park where he opened five weeks ago.
“Red Bank is a nice town,” Gribbin said, “but I figured it made a lot more sense to go some place where a lot of people from New York are going. Asbury is an up-and-coming market.
“The antique business is always changing,” for both what people want and where they want to go for it, he said. “You have to change with the shifting tastes and trends.”
He said the business has been good in his new location and he’s keeping his fingers crossed that it continues.
“It’s going through a transition,” said west side restaurateur Danny Murphy about the Arts and Antiques District. “I think it’s shrinking a bit.”
Murphy has long been a sort of west side ambassador, promoting the area and working on initiatives to enhance the neighborhood. He worked with other local business owners to help designate the area as the Arts and Antiques District.
“We chose to be called that other than the west side of town,” he said recently while talking about the area’s history.
This business may be contracting a little in the area, but he is looking forward to the completion of the new development and expects it to bring new retail and new life to the area.
Mayor Pasquale Menna said he doesn’t believe the arts and antiques district is waning. “I’d say it’s changing and redefining itself.”
There may be fewer people antiquing in the borough, Menna said, but he sees an increase in what he calls a “collateral aspect of the same field,” the decorative arts, interior design. “You have many more designers in Red Bank, who are taking on an entire scope of antiquing,” he said.
Like Peter Roesar, who runs Ambiance European Antiques, 191 West Front St. “Most people who are antiquing are not looking for what we offer,” Roesar said of his shop. He travels a few times a year to France and Belgium, acquiring items, which he then places in the homes of customers who are redecorating.
While his store does some of the traditional antique business, that has slowed in recent years. “I think it’s economy driven,” he said.
“We still have quite a few design jobs” and that business has remained relatively strong, he said.
Johnson operates the Red Bank Antique Center in two locations on West Front Street, housing numerous dealers in what is run as a co-op. “We’re not back to where we were in 1999, but we’re coming back,” after some slow years, he said.
Johnson’s mother established the center in 1964, with Johnson taking it over in 1970. His has issues with the new West Side Lofts project and its impact on the district. “It’s definitely hurting business,” taking away what he said was about one-fifth of the trade.
While he sees Asbury Park as “up and coming,” he expects to stay in Red Bank. “Red Bank has got life and will continue,” Johnson said.
“Look, it’s not necessarily what it was, but people are still doing business in Red Bank, you still have an antique district there,” Gribbin said. “It’s not over.”
It wasn’t over for Joseph Piazza, who was walking along West Front Street carrying a small mahogany night table. Piazza came to the borough looking for items to decorate his North Bergen home. The table, he said, was made probably during the 1890s, “maybe a little older … It was a great price, great condition, I couldn’t say no.
“I’ve been to Troy (N.Y.). I’ve been to Lambertville. I’ve been to the New York Pier,” he said, but he’d rather come to Red Bank as he works on his 21-room home. “The prices are better and the selection is wonderful. I think Red Bank is undiscovered.”